For anyone making the trek to The Top, this is where it all begins.
Situated at the end of the bitumen road at the spot where british
navigaor James Cook repaired the damaged Endeavour in 1770, Cooktown
boasts a unique character, based on its years of geographic isolation
and hard life. The town is surrounded by the unspoilt natural beauty of
the area, and first time visitors really feel like they've stumbled
back in time and come across a local secret.
Where is it?: Cooktown is 326 km (by the inland road) and 235 km (by
the coast road) from Cairns; 2,034 km north of Brisbane.
Things to see and do
There are a number of interesting buildings in and around Cooktown.
These include James Cook Historical Museum building (1886); Westpac
Bank (former Queensland National Bank building, 1889); six memorials to
James Cook; Mrs. Watson's Monument; Mary Watson's Cottage ruins, Powder
Magazine; an iron cannon (positioned in 1889 to prevent an unlikely
attack from the Russians); Old Cooktown Hospital; Jacky Jacky Building;
Cooktown Cemetery; Chinese Shrine; Cooktown Sea Museum; Captain Cook
Memorial Lighthouse (1971)
Cooktown has numerous beaches. Finch Bay and Cherry Tree Bay are
fringed with two of Cooktown's most beautiful beaches. You can drive to
Finch Bay or you van walk there from the Botanical Gardens. Cherry Tree
Bay is also accessible from the Gardens or Grassy Hill Road. Walker
Bay, favoured by river mouth anglers and kite surfers, is located at
the mouth of the Annan River. Access is by 4WD vehicles only.
Quarantine Bay (5km from Cooktown) is a pebbly beach, with the
rainforest covered slopes of Mt Cook as its backdrop. Archer Point (20
km from Cooktown) has a beach which, at low tide, allows visitors to
walk out to the reff and snorkel off the point, but keep a look out for
crocodiles and stingers.
Cooktown is the northern terminus of the Australian Bicentennial
National Trail, which, at 5,330 km, is the longest trail of its type in
the world. The southern end of the trail is at Healesville, Victoria, a
town 52 km north-east of Melbourne.
Lookouts: Grassy Hill Lookout has 360 degree views of the countryside
and beaches. Watching the sun set from the lookout is a special
Events: Cooktown Discovery Festival (every June)
Endeavour Falls Tourist Park (32km north west) is set in one of the
most beautiful locations in the Endeavour Valley. The park has over 850
palm trees with huge staghorns, and thousands Cooktown Orchids
flowering in season (February - March). Walking tracks lead to
waterfalls.The rugged Mount Cook (231 metres) forms a backdrop to the
town and is now part of the Mount Cook National Park. Rainforest and
tropical woodland with a heath understorey cover the mountain’s
upper slopes and sheltered gullies while grasslands grow on the
southern slopes. A 3 km circuit leads to a vantage point with views
over the Great Barrier Reef to the east, and the Endeavour Valley to
the west (allow 4 hours).
Lakefield Natiional Park
Lakefield National Park: Queensland’s second largest park
features spectacular wetlands and extensive river systems. Hann and
Kalpowar crossings are two of the many significant Aboriginal cultural
heritage sites featuring Quinkan figures to be found in this landscape.
Within the Park is Laura Homestead, associated with the establishment
of the cattle industry on Cape York Peninsula and the Palmer River
Cedar Bay National Park
The remote and beautiful coastal Cedar Bay National Park (40 km
south) features rugged tropical rainforest hinterland and sea-sculpted
headlands, fringed with expansive sandy beaches. Sandy beaches and
fringing reefs are backed by dense tropical rainforest in this remote
national park. The park lies between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown and
is accessible only by boat or on foot via two walking tracks.
Cape Melville National Park
(225 km north, 4wd only) This remote park is characterised by the
massive, tumbled granite boulders of the Melville Range, the sandstone
escarpments of the Altanmoui Range and inland dunefields. The park
features a diversity of plant communities including rainforest,
mangroves, heathlands, woodlands and grasslands.
The most northerly of the Great Barrier Reef resort islands, the
island boasts 24 beaches, all ideal for swimming or snorkelling. The
Cod Hole is one Australia's best dive sites; deep sea game fishing is
another popular activity. Lizard Island was declared a National Park in
1937. The waters surrounding the island were declared a Marine Park in
Black Mountain, 30km south of Cooktown,is steeped in Aboriginal
myths and legends, and are a special place for the Kuku Yalanji
peoples. Information boards give more detailed information about the
area. There is a lookout and viewing platform near the peak.
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The most northerly major town in Australia, Cooktown is the stepping
off point for 4-wheel drivers heading north through Cape York
Peninsula. The coastal track in these parts, which is a quagmire in the
wet season and full of bulldust and giant potholes in the dry, is one
of the worst roads in Australia and explains why most of the vehicles
here are 4-wheel drives. Cooktown lays claim to being the site of
Australia's first European settlement, even though it was only a
Origin of name: recalls the area's first European visitor, Lieut. James
Cook, who stayed here for two months during his 1770 exploration of the
On 17th June 1770, after accidentally striking the Great Barrier
Reef, Lieut. James Cook and Endeavour limped up the coast from Cape
Tribulation, coming to rest at the Endeavour River after a week. Cook
stayed until 4th August, the longest stay in a single Australian
location by Cook, repairing the vessel. It was here that the kangaroo
was discovered and first described. The natives called it 'kanguru'.
The next Europeans to visit the area were the coastal explorers Phillip
Parker King and Allan Cunningham who explored the area in 1819 and
climbed and named Mount Cook but it wasn't until gold was discovered on
the Palmer River that the government saw it necessary to establish a
settlement here. Freidrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt arrived at
Endeavour River with supplies and 96 people and overnight the
settlement of Cook's Town, as it was originally known, came into being.
By 1875, the wealth of the gold extracted from the region and the huge
number of miners it attracted is reflected in the fact that the town
had an incredible 65 hotels, a school, a fire brigade and two churches.
The main street was nearly 3 km long.
The town fell into decline as the gold ran out, but received a minor
boost with the discovery of tin. Cooktown was almost wiped out by a
cyclone in 1907 and it didn't recover to its former size or place of
importance until after World War II when the town experienced a tourist
boom that continues today.